There was a New York Times article I read a couple of weeks ago that has left me thinking. It describes the some of the education situation in Afghanistan, and the attack on schools by Taliban rebels, who have protested the education of girls. Recently, there have been incidents of attacks on the students themselves, including brutal shootings of young girls leaving schoolgrounds.
The article was accompanied by a slideshow, containing beautiful photographs of some Afghan schools, and of the people affected by the attacks on the schools. We see the mourning family of a 13-year-old girl who was shot down and killed outside of her school, and students and teachers at work in tents being used as schoolrooms.
One image in particular gripped me. It shows a classroom, a tent actually, where young girls are standing or sitting among rows of tables, holding textbooks. They wear black and white, and most wear white scarves over their hair. The girl at the center of the image is holding out her book, and looking up eagerly at an adult that is mostly out of frame, a teacher, most likely. The girl’s eyes glint brightly and her mouth curves in a small smile. Another girl’s scarf has fallen to her shoulders, and she looks off to the side, her attention apparently diverted from the book activity. Other faces look down at books, or up at the teacher. Some look confident, some look a bit more uncertain. Some look focused on their books, and some a bit distracted by other things going on in the room. I imagine that they are all a bit exicited to have the photographer in the classroom with them. All of their small beautiful faces look eager, engaged. They look, more than anything, just like children. In spite of the setting. In spite of their formal-looking style of dress. And most amazingly, in spite of the dangers they face.
In their faces I see myself as a girl, and my own eagerness for learning. I see my daughter’s face, and the future that education will bring her. I see my sister’s face, my mother’s face, my friends’ faces, and the faces of all the women I know, who were once young girls, and who have benifitted from an education that we so easily take for granted.
My heart sings for those young girls at the same time as I feel the grip of fear for their very lives. Their world is being expanded, their minds enriched, the possibilities of their future are multiplying.
I am horrified that children are paying such a high price for their education. I’m appalled and deeply saddened. I can barely imagine the choices that these children and their parents must face.
At the same time, the photo gives me some hope. The number of students attending schools, both boys and girls, is increasing in the years since the end of the Taliban’s government. Educators and parents in Afghanistan, and organizations around the world, are fighting to make schooling possible for these children.
For more information on the education crisis in Afghanistan, and the emergency situation for Afghani children in general, see the UNICEF information pages for Afghanistan. There are also many other resources on the web, such as this publication of Human Rights Watch.